GM CEO Mary Barra provides an update on the ignition switch recall investigation on June 5. Steve Fecht photo courtesy of General Motors.

GM CEO Mary Barra provides an update on the ignition switch recall investigation on June 5. Steve Fecht photo courtesy of General Motors.

General Motors has fired 15 employees and disciplined five others, as a result of an internal investigation into the Cobalt ignition switch defect and recall, the company announced.

At the same time, CEO Mary Barra said an internal investigation into the recall revealed "deeply troubling" aspects that GM will take strides to rectify.

Additionally, the automaker hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to administer a compensation program for collision victims and their families, CEO Mary Barra announced June 5. Feinberg has gained renown for his work overseeing claims for victims involved in such events as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Virginia Tech campus shootings.

GM has acknowledged that the ignition switch defect is linked to 13 deaths.

Speaking to GM employees and the media, Barra described the investigation findings as "extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling."

Earier this year, the automaker's board of directors hired Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney, to conduct the probe into how the company handled the ignition switch defect and recall. He presented his findings by June 2. The investigation included 350 interviews with more than 230 people. More than 41 million documents were involved. 

A redacted version of the Valukas report is available for download on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website

"Overall the report found that, from start to finish, the Cobalt saga was riddled with failures which led to tragic results for many," Barra said.

The investigation report details how company personnel failed to address the ignition switch problem, which persisted for more than 11 years. "While everybody who was engaged on the ignition switch issue had the responsibility to fix it, nobody took responsibility. Thoughout the 11-year history, there was no demonstrated sense of urgency, right to the very end," Barra said, summing up some of the report's conclusions.

Barra also noted that the Valukas report revealed no company cover-up conspiracy and no evidence that any employee made a trade-off between safety and cost.

"What Valukas found was a pattern of management deficiencies and misjudgements often based on incomplete data that were passed off at the time as business as usual," Barra said. "Unfortunately, the report found, these seemingly benign actions led to devastating consequences. In short, we misdiagnosed the problem from the beginning. Experienced engineers, with responsibility for safety, didn't understand that the airbags would not deploy if the ignition switch changed position." 

The GM Board of Directors is working closely with management to oversee implementation of those recommendations, said Chairman Tim Solso.

"In addition, the board also retained independent counsel to advise us with respect to this situation and governance and risk management issues," Solso said. "We will establish a stand-alone risk committee to assist in overseeing these efforts. The board, like management, is committed to changing the company’s culture and processes to ensure that the problems described in the Valukas report never happen again."

The Valukas report concluded that a trio of executives did not learn about the ignition switch safety issues and the recall delay until after the decision to issue a recall was made on Jan. 31, Solso said. Executives named included Barra; Mike Millikin, executive vice president and general counsel; and Mark Reuss, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

Barra emphasized that the company is committed to making sweeping changes in the way it handles safety issues. The actions to date include:

  • Appointing Jeff Boyer as vice president of global vehicle safety, elevating and integrating GM’s safety processes under a single leader
  • Adding 35 product safety investigators that will allow GM to identify and address issues more quickly
  • Launching the “Speak up for Safety” program, which encourages employees to report potential safety issues quickly and forcefully
  • Creating a new Global Product Integrity organization to enhance overall safety and quality performance
  • Restructuring the recall decision-making process to raise it to the highest levels of the company. 

So far, the company's numerous recalls in 2014 — GM has recalled 13.78 million vehicles across 30 models in North America — don't appear to have impacted sales. In May, the automakers reported a 12.6 percent increase over the prior year, reports the Detroit News.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet